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Buffalo Bills Rulings Review – Week 12

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The crazy, weird, up-and-down November has finally come to a close. The Buffalo Bills lost to Jacksonville, then beat New York, then lost to Indianapolis, and then blew out the New Orleans Saints on primetime. The final score was 31-6, and the game was never close. There weren’t really any rulings that affected the outcome. But nevertheless, I still have a job to do!

The Bills finished the game with their second-lowest penalty total of the season, with only four accepted penalties against for 35 yards. Of these, three came on offense for 20 yards, and the one defensive roughing the passer for 15 yards. There was also one flag that was declined by New Orleans.

The Saints also had a low penalty count, four fouls for 24 yards. They had two offensive penalties for 10 yards, and two defensive penalties for 14.

The final score and penalty count were to be expected. Buffalo caught New Orleans reeling from injuries, with several of their key players sidelined on Thanksgiving. Additionally, we nerds who closely follow NFL officiating anticipated minimal penalties from Brad Allen.

Brad Allen and his crew trend far below average in flags-per-game. Last year, when his crew officiated the Colts-Bills Wild Card game, the Bills had two penalties for four total yards. This year, Allen’s crew has only called more than fifteen penalties in a game one time. That game, Dallas-New England, went into overtime.

A combination of the officiating crew and the dominant performance from Buffalo combined to result in one of the cleaner games of Week 12. There were some mistakes – and there always will be – but I thought Brad Allen was consistent within the game.

What bothers me most about this NFL season is how inconsistent the officials have been between the games. Even if crews demonstrate consistency within a 60-minute football game, there has been an inconsitent standard from one game to the next. There is no greater example of that so far than the Bills-Saints game having only eight penalties, while the Las Vegas-Dallas game preceding it having 28.

Were the Bills and Saints that much cleaner than the Raiders and Cowboys? Maybe they were. The Cowboys lead the league in penalties, and the Raiders are in second place. But I don’t think that tells the whole story. The difference between how Brad Allen and Shawn Hocuhuli call the game was on full display on Thanksgiving.

I don’t know, but let’s stick to the Bills game here. These are the five plays I’d like to talk about from the Bills game:

1: No call for Taunting. Q1, 1:19.

Let me preface this by saying that the new taunting rule has put officials in a really tough spot. The NFL wants its officials to make rulings based on players’ actions without knowing the intent behind those actions. Was the player disrespecting his opponent, or was he celebrating a great play? Oftentimes, the referee must guess, and because taunting results in a fifteen-yard penalty, these guesses frequently sway the outcomes of professional football games.

On this particular play, Josh Allen was flushed from the pocket on a screen pass and threw the ball at the feet of Dawson Knox for an incompletion. As he released the ball, defensive tackle Daniel Omyemata lunged at Allen’s legs, but didn’t hit him hard enough to warrant a penalty. Allen turned to Omyemata, who stood and walked toward the quarterback. Omyemata bumped Allen’s helmet with his own, and Allen flopped backward trying to sell a call.

The entire sequence happened five feet from referee Brad Allen, who decided not to throw his flag for taunting. I don’t necessarily blame him. It’s impossible for me to know what was said between the players and, unless he heard it, Brad Allen would have had to guess too. I’m good with no flag here – but I’m not sure the league office would agree with me. This type of play has been consistently called for taunting throughout the season, frustrating both players and fans.

If we are looking for consistency between games, this is a 15-yard foul against New Orleans. I dread the day in January or February when a referee flags a similar play for taunting and impacts the outcome of a playoff game or the Super Bowl. The outcry will be stupendous. I just hope it doesn’t go against my team.

2: No call for Offensive Holding. Q1, 00:32.

Two plays after the no-call for taunting, the Bills faced a 3rd and 13. Dion Dawkins got absolutely blown up by defensive end Carl Granderson. Granderson beat him so badly that Dawkins held him by the helmet and pulled him to the turf in the pocket – right where his quarterback happened to be standing.

Fortunately, Allen wasn’t planted and Granderson didn’t hit him in either knee. The defensive end did manage to take Allen down, and the play resulted in a sack against the Bills, but it could have had damaging long-term implications.

Dawkins is holding Granderson as he rushes the passer.

This play probably should’ve been called offensive holding on Dawkins. However, it’s a moot point as the Saints would have declined it. I saw a few fans hoping for a roughing the passer call against Granderson, which is why I chose to highlight this play. There is absolutely nothing the pass rusher could have done to avoid going low in that situation. Had it been called holding, it would have ended any potential debate from the fans.

3: Spot of the ball. Q2, 4:32.

This play was an important third down for the Bills. On a 3rd and 6, Allen hit Emmanuel Sanders on a short pass, and Sanders turned up field to get to the sticks. Cornerback Bradley Roby bumped him, but Sanders used his hand to thrust himself forward for an extra few feet. It looked like Sanders got enough for the first down but was, initially, ruled short.

Admittedly, I do not know how the officials changed the spot of the ball. On this particular play, Ryan Bates, the right guard, suffered an injury and needed assistance getting off the field. During the delay, Brad Allen announced that “after further discussion” the officials were changing the spot of the ball. But was it further discussion, or was it the sky judge stepping in to fix a clear and obvious error?

Emmanuel Sanders is still airborne and the ball has passed the marker.

The same thing happened on Josh Allen’s third down scramble just before the infamous failed sneak in Tennessee. I wrote about it here. It was a good use of replay to fix a clear mistake, even if it didn’t benefit the Bills. If the same thing happened in New Orleans, then that was a good use of replay too.

What bugs me is the inconsistency between games. A similar play to this happened in the Titans-Patriots game on Sunday. The officials marked Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine short of the endzone when he very clearly broke the plane. It was a clear and obvious error by the on-field officials – just like the Emmanuel Sanders play. It should have been corrected immediately by the sky judge. Instead, the replay did not intervene and Tennessee Coach Mike Vrabel had to throw the challenge flag, resulting in this incredible video.

The play was, correctly, overturned. However, Vrabel shouldn’t have had to waste a challenge. If – and I honestly can’t be sure – replay intervened in New Orleans to correctly grant the Bills a first down, then it should have also done so in the Titans-Patriots game. The inconsistency between games is staggering.

4: Ineligible Receiver Down Field, Buffalo. Q2, 00:22.

This was one of Buffalo’s two penalties. On a 2nd and 1 from the New Orleans 7, the Bills ran a really weird play. On a screen play, three offensive linemen pulled to the left, but no receivers went with them. Either Matt Breida ran to the wrong side of the field, or the Bills had an elaborate fake up their sleeve.

Ultimately, Allen rolled to his right, where all of his options were, and fired the ball to Dawson Knox for a touchdown. It was a great pass, but there was a flag on the play. All three offensive linemen were way beyond the line of scrimmage.

There’s nothing to argue about here. It was the right call. The reason why I bring it up is because of its impact on the game. Rather than being up 17-0 and getting the ball to start the second half, the score remained at 10-0. On the very next play, Allen threw his second interception of the half, and the Saints kneeled out the clock.

5: No call for Roughing the Passer. Q4, 10:24.

I was really surprised this wasn’t called roughing the passer. On a very similar play to the first one I referenced, Josh Allen threw the ball at the feet of Devin Singletary on a blown up screen pass. Unlike the play in the first quarter, where the pass rusher pulled up, defensive tackle Christian Ringo lunged at Allen’s legs and tackled him. Thankfully, Allen was facing toward his own end zone, so his legs were able to fold without threat of injury.

Ringo went low and late. It was a dangerous play; one that should have been penalized. Many commentators on Twitter agreed. More importantly, Sean McDermott agreed, calling out the officiating crew for seemingly protecting other quarterbacks more than his own. If taunting is the most inconsistent penalty this season, roughing the passer comes second.

Conclusion

Brad Allen and his crew did a pretty solid job, particularly compared to the unwatchable Raiders-Cowboys mess that preceded it. Allen is a veteran official, having been a crew chief for eight seasons, and it showed. He kept the game under control, allowed the blowout to happen, and didn’t intervene when he didn’t need to. Those are the kind of games you love to officiate.

Next, Buffalo heads home to take on New England in Orchard Park. It will be the most consequential Bills – Patriots game in a generation. Thankfully, the Bills have extra rest coming off their Thanksgiving game. This one might be for the division, and might even be for more than that.

The referee for the Bills-Patriot Monday Night Game will be Bill Vinovich, one of the best in the business. Hopefully his crew will be as effective and efficient as Brad Allen’s was on Thanksgiving.

See you next week. Go Bills.

Blake Parnham is a sports official and a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan. Blake is an advocate for reducing the abuse directed at officials in amateur sport. On gameday, you can find him in his backyard at the Bills Helmet Bar, in Keswick, Ontario.

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